2007 — Grade 7 students Kate Godlien and Erin Hillary dig into their Cake-Walk prize during J.A. Laird’s Winter Carnival.

2007 — Grade 7 students Kate Godlien and Erin Hillary dig into their Cake-Walk prize during J.A. Laird’s Winter Carnival.

Wolverines — Jumbo Wild’s other indicator

“wolverines could compare to the snow leopard for their mystery to humans,”

Rowena Eloise

West Kootenay Coalition for Jumbo Wild, Argenta

 

Wild Jumbo’s iconic resident grizzly bears indicate a happy, healthy, mountain valley habitat. Inhabiting the cold, rugged places of the North Pole nations — but barely — “wolverines could compare to the snow leopard for their mystery to humans,” according to Douglas Chadwick, an American wildlife biologist, author, photographer and frequent National Geographic contributor. Being virtually extirpated from Eastern Canada and the U.S.A. inspired recent studies into Gulo gulo’s (Latin) habits, habitats, and populations.

Studies indicate the Jumbo area’s resident wolverines enjoy a happy, healthy, high terrain habitat. These two species (grizzlies and wolverines) indicate a fully vital eco-system.

The largest of the weasel family, gulos are handsome, agile, courageous, exuberant and strong. Their faces are bear-like. Their coats consist of thick, downy underlayers with long guard hair overlays that shed water and condensation, yet remain frost free — which is the reason their pelts are prized. Their colours are basic brown with a golden ring several inches wide that wraps around their bodies. They are similar in size to medium-sized dogs.

Depending on the life-sustaining ability of the environment, a wolverine’s home range will be 300 square kilometres (115 square miles) to 700 square kilometres (270 square miles), though one male recorded had a 1,500 square kilometre home range.

His one to two mates’ home ranges will be inside his and will not overlap each other’s. He regularly patrols his range, keeping out intruders, which assures the food supply.

Mature offspring find their own home ranges.

These non-hibernating omnivores clean up their timberline territories as their diets include scavenged carrion, freshly killed ungulates, small rodents, frogs, fish, berries, roots and bones.

Their metabolisms run extremely fast to facilitate their constant loping pace, which promotes constant hunger. They can smell frozen carrion under 10 inches of snow and dig it out easily.

“There’s tough and then there are wolverines,” said Chadwick.

Their curiosity is fierce and unrestrained. They are physiologically adapted to a life of wild intensity. Their four large, webbed, crampon-clawed feet act as ice and snowshoes. They swim readily and well. They travel fast, far, steep and high, keeping an unswerving, steady progress. They roam the peaks at will — scaling them, summiting them, scavenging snowslides and intimidating their largest inhabitants.

Humans and packs of wolves are their only enemies. Nothing eats wolverine.

Two white fuzzy kits are born early May in a natal den. The mother usually digs into up to eight inches of snow, frequently under a fallen white bark pine. She makes a birth chamber, toilet, play room and pantry. All are connected by tunnels lined with wood chips chewed from the tree. As the kits grow, she moves them to the maternity den. One human footprint near either den may cause her to move the kits, which can be fatal.

When old enough, the kits will go with her to gather food. They stay with their mother 1.5 years. After she regains her strength, she gets pregnant again.

Wolverines mature at two to three years. They can live to age 10. They reproduce slowly. Their populations are decreasing.

Photos and studies show a mother laying on her back cupping two kits, one in each arm as they nurse, and fathers bring food for growing kits.

Fathers may care for orphaned kits if they are old enough to keep up with him. Unlike other mammals (except humans), fathers and mature sons will travel together; males and females will be chummy in other than mating season; and mothers and daughters will visit each other to hang out, not a constant close relationship, but one that endures season after season, year after year. The resident dominant male and his mates and their offspring create a Kinship Group, of which three individuals were observed together snowsliding downhill as will otters and bears.

“When I look at eco-systems through the eyes of a wolverine, one of my favorite critters because they represent quintessential wilderness, I know we need to ensure large and intact wild spaces,” said Dr. Jody Hilty, Yellowstone to Yukon president and chief scientist.

There have been very few local sightings and only a few local high country snow hikers have seen prints.

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